Category Archives: Baking

Christmas. Let’s face it, it’s all about fruit and booze.

Hello hello hello.  I know, I know, it’s been bloody ages, but my cooking is pretty dull these days I’m afraid.  Something called work is apparently preventing me from being creative…

A couple of weeks ago, I decided it was about time to start making my staple Christmas prepare-ahead foods – the cake, the pud and the mincemeat.  I wrote this blog post at the time but for some reason forgot to post it after I’d taken the photos, but now I can add a picture of my tree, so perhaps it’s all for the good 🙂

I'm really pleased we've wrapped what we've got because it just makes the tree seem so much more Christmassy!  Note Father Christmouse guarding all the gifts :)

I’m really pleased we’ve wrapped what we’ve got because it just makes the tree seem so much more Christmassy! Note Father Christmouse guarding all the gifts 🙂

This year, I don’t actually need to make a cake because a) last year’s never got eaten and is still in the cupboard and b) we still have wedding cake left (which is also a fruit cake).  Just need to ice it in a couple of weeks’ time.  Easy!

I soaked the fruit for the mincemeat for a couple of days as per my previous recipe.  It’s more or less identical, except I added some freshly squeezed pomegranate juice (as I had some pomegranates in the fridge) and I used madiera instead or port, as I didn’t have any port in the house.  It smells gorgeous but doesn’t have that same wonderful ruby colour, so I’ll probably revert to port next year.

I also rolled and froze 90 pastry cases (!) so I’m well geared up for mince pies again.  The pastry is amazingly flaky and short, and the madiera has worked fabulously.  I’ve made a medly of different shaped lids this year using some new mini cutters I bought recently; they’re so cute!

Stars, Angels, Christmas Trees and Gingerbread Men.  Also available: Candy Canes, Holly Leaves and something else which entirely slips my mind...

Stars, Angels, Christmas Trees and Gingerbread Men. Also available: Candy Canes, Holly Leaves and something else which entirely slips my mind…

The puds also follow more or less the same recipe as before, except I didn’t have any dark rum, so the fruit was soaked for a week in a combination of Bacardi Oakheart spiced rum and home-steeped raspberry whisky.  I am now the proud owner of a silver sixpence, given to me by my dad and worn by me in my shoe on my wedding day for luck, so (after having been cleaned!) that was stirred into the mixture.  As A Man was out at a kickboxing thing today, I made sure I chucked all the ingredients into the bowl before he left so he didn’t miss out on Stir-up Sunday and making a wish!  The main change this year is that I’ve finally treated myself to some ceramic pudding basins, spurred by succeeding last year in melting one of the plastic basins in a friend’s saucepan at our annual get-together (whoops!).  They’re pretty too, with their polka-dotted exteriors.  I got one 2-pint basin and two 1-pints.  I also bought a lovely tall 10 litre pan yesterday, so I was able to steam the puds properly!  Now it’s just the case of finding a proper steaming trivet, as I managed to split a saucer in two this time, using it to stand the basin on…

Yay!  Pudding basins that won't melt!

Yay! Pudding basins that won’t melt!

I also decided I should do something with a load of cooking apples given to us by A Man’s mum.  The mandolin was out after having made chips last night, and I had just treated myself to an apple corer, so I decided to try my hand at apple crisps.  They are one of my absolute favourite snacks, but they’re bloody expensive to buy!  To be honest, I wasn’t sure about using cooking apples as I thought they might be too bitter, but they worked fantastically!  It was simply a case of washing and coring the apples, thinly slicing them into water mixed with lemon juice, laying the slices on a parchment-lined baking sheet and cooking at around 100C for a couple of hours, until they had dried out.  Then they get stored in an airtight container to be nommed at your leisure!  Before baking I sprinkled some with cinnamon, some with mixed spice, some with five spice and left some plain.  Some people like to add a little sugar too, but I like a nice tart apple slice, so I didn’t bother.  Honestly, they’re better than the ones you can buy!  I’m almost tempted to buy myself a dehydrator from Amazon…  So good for you, and a nice way to preserve surplus fruit, without having to go down the jelly or chutney route (which I had already done a couple of months ago, and have jars and jars of stuff leftover).

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They’ve actually all disappeared now, but they were yummy while they lasted!

I’ve now marzipanned and iced the cake, but haven’t bothered to take a photo yet as I need to decorate it yet.  Hopefully it’ll be ready before next weekend, which is the annual get-together which this year is being hosted in Birmingham, the day after my office Christmas party…  See a hint of the carnage of 2011 (when A Man and I hosted) here.

Hope you’re all sufficiently into the spirit of the season!  Much love.

Gemma xx

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Birthdays are for wine and cake and chocolate

So why not combine all three?

Hello there.  It’s been a while, I know.  Life has been…hectic since starting work.  I make no apologies – I simply don’t have the hours at home that I used to.

 

It was A Man’s birthday yesterday.  After work on Monday, I went to the supermarket to buy the ingredients to make him a birthday cake.  “No need to buy brown sugar,” thought I, “We’ve got some in the cupboard.”  Little did I know that, because of the following rule, the brown sugar was gone.

YOU HAVE TO BRING YOUR OWN BIRTHDAY CAKE INTO THE OFFICE

It would appear that, when he arrived home, A Man made his own birthday cake (a carrot cake) to take to work with him the following morning.  Cue another trip to the supermarket.  Grrr.

Anywho, this is an incredible cake recipe I have made once before.  I was searching the internet for red velvet recipes when I came across this one.  I made it as a kind of gimmick, as the person I was making it for is known for loving red wine.  As it happens, the cake was INCREDIBLE and was dubbed by my dad as the best cake he had ever eaten.  Needless to say, I just had to make it again.

I cocked up the frosting somewhat last time, and I have to confess that due to that and the aforementioned job thing, I bought a tub of ready-made cream cheese frosting.  I felt guilty for about 3 seconds and then decided there are more things in life to get het up about than whether or not I made the frosting on the cake.  It’s just one of those skills I can’t seem to get the hang of.

One tip for you: by all means sprinkle the cake liberally with finely grated chocolate.  Just remember that you’ll get chocolate dust everywhere when it comes to candle-blowing-out time…

I won’t repeat the recipe here, but here are some photos of my efforts.

Much love

Gemma xx

A Man attempts to entinguish the candles without blowing chocolate all over the dining table.

A Man attempts to entinguish the candles without blowing chocolate all over the dining table.

Masterfully slicing the cake and transferring it to a plate.

Masterfully slicing the cake and transferring it to a plate.

Got to be honest, I am obscenely pleased with this cake!

Got to be honest, I am obscenely pleased with this cake!

Look! It’s been snowing.

Hello there.

As you will undoubtedly be aware, it’s been snowing.  You get many many bonus points if you can tell me where the innocuous phrase in the title came from.

I had to work from home yesterday, as my trains were cancelled, and A Man also worked from the Warminster office as riding 50 miles on a motorbike with snow on its tyres would not have been an especially sensible idea.  This meant we were able to meet up for a lunchtime walk, and take some pretty photos of the park.

Let it Snow

I love this man’s olde-worlde sledge!

WARNING – THIS POST IS ABOUT TO GET CHRISTMASSY 3 AND A HALF WEEKS TOO LATE

Thanks to Charles Dickens, snow in the UK is commonly associated with Christmas, despite it actually hardly ever happening.  The fact of it being snowy outside led me to make a somewhat rash decision.  Bring out the Christmas pudding!

By all rights it should have been flamed, but I was a little too tipsy to be trusted with a ladle full of rum and a match.

By all rights it should have been flamed, but I was a little too tipsy to be trusted with a ladle full of rum and a match.

I made 2 Christmas puds this year in November, both 2 pints and one with a silver sixpence in.  The first we took to our friends’ house for our annual Christmas dinner and as I had no idea which pud had the sixpence, there was no question of microwaving to warm it up (not to mention, it always tastes better when steamed).  Unfortunately, a combination of drunkenness, a too-small pan, boiling dry and stupidity, the plastic pudding basin melted.  The pud was luckily salvageable and very tasty but didn’t even have the sixpence so I knew it was in the one at home.

The sixpence is hiding right in the middle of the wedge, so at least we know where it is now!

The sixpence is hiding right in the middle of the wedge, so at least we know where it is now!

As we were visiting family over Christmas we never got the opportunity to have the second pudding.  I decided that, to be safe, I would reheat the pud in the same way I cooked them: wrapped in a muslin, and steamed in the slow cooker sitting on a saucepan.  It worked really well and the pudding was surprisingly light.

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The recipe was more or less the same as last year’s, but I used the following fruit instead:

4 oz Dried figs
3 oz Prunes
5 oz Apricots
6 oz Currants
1 lb Sultanas

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After last year’s embarrassingly alcoholic pudding, I recorded how much rum I fed the puddings: 1 capful once a week for 5 weeks.  A little more wouldn’t have hurt, but the amount used was pretty good.

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Christmas pudding served with its perfect accompaniment of lots of clotted cream.

I’ve also still got the Christmas cake in the cupboard, without marzipan or icing, again because we didn’t really have an opportunity to eat it.  I’ll save it for another post, but I’m seriously considering keeping it in the cupboard until next year, and having a 13-month matured cake – that’s got to be good, right?!

If you’ve read this far congratulations.  Have a mince pie (yup, I’ve been cooking those too!).

Much love

Gemma x

Triple Chocolate, Fruit and Nut Brownies

Hullo hullo

It’s a chilly, wet day in the South West today and I’m spending quite a lot of it curled up on the sofa with a cup of tea.  A Man’s gone to a kickboxing competition in Croydon, so it’s just me, the radio and catching up with my blog.  And what better thing when you’re cold and lonely than a slab of something deliciously calorific?

It’s also my youngest brother’s 16th birthday today, and so to celebrate in his absence I’m munching on some brownies I made yesterday.  He’s also at a martial arts competition, though this one is judo, and it’s his first at a senior level, so fingers crossed for him!

I adapted a recipe in Donna Hay’s Chocolate, basically so that I didn’t have to go back to the supermarket and could just use the ingredients I already had.  It’s rich and squidgy and frankly it’s darned delicious.

Hope you’re having a relaxing Sunday!  And good luck to A Man and baby brother!

Love love

Gemma xx

Triple Chocolate, Fruit and Nut Brownies

8oz butter
2 1/2 oz milk chocolate (I used a packet of chocolate buttons!)
2 1/2 oz white chocolate
7 1/4 oz dark brown sugar
4 eggs
3 oz cocoa powder
5 oz plain flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
Handful of dried fruit (I used figs, cranberries and glacé cherries)
Handful of nuts (I used mixed nuts, including peanuts, hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds and brazil nuts)

I had planned to liberally coat the brownie with icing sugar to make it more appealing to photograph, but it turns out I don’t have any icing sugar in the cupboard.

  1. Preheat the oven to 160OC/320OF/Gas mark 3.  Line a cake tin with baking parchment.
  2. Melt the butter and half of the milk chocolate in a bain marie and allow to cool slightly.
  3. Beat the sugar and eggs together.  Sift the cocoa, flour and baking powder into the egg mixture and stir until it is well combined.
  4. Add the melted butter to the bowl and stir until it is thoroughly combined.  The mixture should be glossy and reasonably thick.
  5. Chop the remaining chocolate, dried fruit and nuts into small pieces.  I used the mezzaluna.  Sprinkle over the batter and fold in gently, until the pieces are well distributed.
  6. Pour into the prepared baking tin and cook for between 35 minutes and an hour, until set.  This will entirely depend on how thick the brownie is.  Mine was quite thick, and I ended up leaving it in the warm (but switched off) oven while we watched a film so that it would set, but still be deliciously squidgy and moist.  Yum!

Chocolate Chestnut Tart

Hullo

Last night a friend from law school and her husband came over for dinner.  We’d been at A Man’s dad’s for lunch, so I didn’t want to do anything too involved for dinner because I didn’t think I’d have time – roast chicken it was.  However, I was also determined to make something for pudding, and decided upon this simple but classy dessert, which I more or less created on the spot.

I’ve already mentioned the garlic and saucisson sec we brought back from France, but they weren’t the only culinary treats we came home with.  One of the gifts our French friends gave us was a large tin of chestnut purée.  Following a suggestion by my mum, I decided to make a tart using the chestnuts as a base.  I planned to serve it with either cream or ice cream, but had neither so improvised the chocolate brandy sauce, which was pretty successful.  The chocolate I used was in fact left over from the strawberries I decorated my friend’s hen party cake with and seems to have been quite happy to sit in the fridge since then.  Oh, I’m good at dealing with leftovers!

Speaking of which, there’s now half a tin of chestnut purée in my fridge.  Any ideas of what I can do with it?

Love love

Gemma xx

Chocolate Chestnut Tart

150g dark chocolate
200g chestnut purée
2 eggs
Caster sugar to taste
Filo pastry
Melted butter

For the sauce
Dark chocolate
White chocolate
Butter
Milk
Brandy

I served the sauce in the teapot because it was the most appropriate receptacle I could find 🙂

  1. Melt the chocolate in a bain marie.  Whilst it is melting, beat the chestnut purée with the eggs.
  2. Once the chocolate has melted, add it to the chestnut mixture.  Stir in a little sugar.  One of the great things about this pudding is its richness, so don’t add too much.
  3. Unwrap the pastry according to the packet.  Brush each sheet with a little melted butter and layer in a tart tin.  Spoon the chestnut mixture into the pastry case and bake in a medium-hot oven for 10-15 minutes, or until golden brown.
  4. For the sauce, melt together the chocolate with about 50g butter.  Once it has melted, add enough milk to reach a pouring consistency, and about 4 tablespoons brandy.  The tart and sauce are both very rich, so you only need a tiny slice.

Wild Boar Pizza with Allotment Salad

Hullo

A Man and I went for a cinema date on Friday, and I really fancied pizza for dinner.  He wasn’t in the mood though, so I agreed that we would go to Wagamama’s and make pizza for dinner on Saturday night.

I’ve blogged about pizza a couple of times, so I won’t bore you with that again.  I tried making the dough with some wholemeal flour but it wasn’t as good as before, so I’ll just be using plain white flour in future.  Oh well – lesson learned!

As well as the garlic we also brought back some other culinary delights from France, one of which was a Saucisson Sec de Sanglier – Wild Boar salami.  A few years ago, as A Man and I were preparing to return to the UK after our European tour, we went to a food market in France where we tried some wild boar prepared similarly to parma ham and it was fantastic.  Unfortunately we didn’t have the space in our luggage to bring any back, but the memory remained and A Man was on the lookout at the Rennes market.  As we couldn’t find the ham, saucisson sec was a good alternative and it was a delicious addition to the pizza.

A Man’s mum visited us during the week, and came bearing fresh vegetables from her allotment.  I decided to make up a yummy salad, with some of the red onion, carrots and peas that she brought us.  Yummy!  It’s a fairly robust salad, and adding some pesto to the dressing really helped to bring the flavours of the veg out.  I plan to have the rest with some more saucisson sec for my lunch today 🙂

And, as a final farewell, here are two of her carrots having a cuddle.

Awww, cuddling carrots. How sweet!

Love love

Gemma xx

Allotment Salad

Fresh peas, shelled
Small red onion
Carrots
Cucumber
Lettuce
Mixed nuts
Olive oil
Balsamic Vinegar
1 tsp Pesto

Allotment salad, with pizza in the background. Mmm, yummy!

  1. Thinly slice the onion.  Peel or scrub the carrots if necessary and chop into fairly small chunks.  Chop the cucumber into cubes and tear the lettuce.  Chop the nuts fairly finely.  Launch all the veg and nuts into a bowl.
  2. Mix the pesto with some olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  Season to taste.  Dress the salad and serve.

 

Hen Party Cake Part 2 – The Beautification…

Hullo!

So, yesterday I showed you a sneak peek of C’s Hen Party Cake.  Now for the final touches which made it ultra-gorgeous.  I decorated what was technically the base of the cake, because I wanted a nice flat surface to work with, but if you’d prefer a dome of gorgeousness then decorate the top.  I made the icing differently to the Green and Blacks recipe, which calls for the chocolate to be melted first, the butter (around 40g for each 100g chocolate) added and stirred through to the consistency of thick pouring cream.  The icing is then poured over the cake.  You can use this method if you prefer.

For the Frosting

200g Milk Chocolate
50g Unsalted Butter

Melt the chocolate and butter together in a bain marie, stirring vigorously until they have reached a spreading consistency.  Using a spatula or palette knife, plaster the frosting all over the top and sides of the cake, paying special attention to the corner where the two meet (it’s a bitch to cover!).  Texturise the icing as you please.  Leave to set at room temperature (fridges do funny things to cakes and the two are best left separate if possible).

The cake after its frosting, with a bottle of pink fizz in the background which I bought for the trip*

For the Decoration

Mmmm, chocolate strawberries!  Even better, chocolate Bride and Groom strawberries!  I found how to make these over at mysweetandsaucy.com and loved them the moment I saw them!  For these I used a 400g punnet of English strawberries, 350g white chocolate buttons, 400g dark chocolate**, some white and pink pearl decorations bought from the supermarket and a little pink food colouring (don’t use too much or the chocolate won’t set!).  I also sprayed the bride with some edible pearl spray to make her a bit more shiny.  I made 1 bride, 1 groom, 1 vicar (a strawberry dipped in dark chocolate, with a little strip of white chocolate at the top) and the rest were split between male and female ‘guests’.  It takes quite a long time, but I think it was worth the effort!

A strawberry wedding!

Close up of the bride, groom and vicar

And one of their guests!

I’m hoping that the cake will travel OK.  It has to go to London tonight and Edinburgh tomorrow morning, all by train.  I’ll have to update you afterwards to let you know how it went!

*The writing on the bottle reads “Be Sparkling; Love; Taste Life; Be a Star; Celebrate; Spread Happiness or Go Home” I just adored the bathos of the final line and it seemed ridiculously appropriate for the festivities in question!  And who knew that pink fizz could be bathetic!

**There was leftover chocolate, but you need to have quite a lot for the pool to be deep enough to be dipped into.  I’ve put the rest into freezerbags which have been stuck in the fridge for future use in baking (probably next time I decide to make a cake).